A book that really made it harder for me to raise my daughter was The Conscious Parent Parent: Transforming Ourselves, Empowering Our Children, by Dr. Shefali Tsabary. I loved the book’s message that parents should accept their children the way they are, and it was probably not meant for small kids or to be literal, but I tried to use it that way.
I think when your child doesn’t use the toilet, and then they become ready to use it, you aren’t accepting what they want, you are training them to do things in a better way and somewhat change who they are.
Dr Shefali mentions that “normative” things should be taught as a routine, assertively, but she doesn’t address the dissidence between not trying to change your children vs changing them to do “normative things”. I also read Dr. Shefali’s second book, and loved it on paper. I committed myself to trying to use her method for my family, but many years later I am admitting to myself it did not work for us.
My understanding of the idea of conscious parenting is to 1. examine each situation on a case by case basis, 2. take in the moment, 3. examine your own soul and upbringing, 4. think about what to do, 5. put a space between being mad and acting (wait five minutes before punishment), 6. act to address the situation.
That all sounds fine, but it all doesn’t work for us. Examining each situation sounds great, but if you are pregnant with another kid vomiting in the toilet, how do you examine why your first child broke something in the playroom that you didn’t witness, and they say they didn’t break it… you don’t, you really can’t always do that. Clear, consistent rules are better for us, than a family meeting over each and every new infraction. We have tried it both ways. With clear rules my daughter isn’t scared of the punishment (you drop your ice cream you have no ice cream – you don’t get another, you hit your brother I talk to you about “mālama” (caring for) him and using your strength in a helpful way), she knows it is coming, she doesn’t love it, but it doesn’t give her anxiety the same as when we decided punishment on a case by case basis.
Conscious Parenting was a huge cognitive burden for me, to try to think about myself and my childhood every time anything bad happened. Yes,it was important for me to let go of a traumatic childhood, but having done that, not everything that happens to my family now has anything to do with my past upbringing.
When I am mad, it is often because my valid boundaries are being violated, not because I am a raging psycho who needs to chill out.
For me, especially with two kids to care for by myself, it makes things way easier if I don’t have to think about what to do when the same problem comes up, sure I have to figure out each new problem, but the set protocol really helps.
For something unsafe, phase 1 I grab my daughter and take her away, phase 2 soothe her, then phase 3 explain, I don’t ask for permission, I don’t negotiate, I just take action.
For emotional fits, I allow the fit, but ask her to go to her space so not everyone else in the family has to be disturbed from their life (quiet meal/music practice/computer project/work from home phone call) for her to throw her fit.
The protocols allow me to be a much better person in the heat of the moment than my attempt at conscious parenting did. For a big disturbing mess I separate her and the mess, have her wait, I clean, then I talk to her about mālama/caring for our home, or items she may have broken. I really do that. Before I had the protocol, it wasn’t as nice… There was yelling sometimes, it didn’t really seem to change her bad habits though.
Now with standing protocol I get less flustered, I treat her better, my husband can help me decide on the protocol (sometimes he has good ideas). The last point about why I’m not a fan of conscious parenting anymore, is that when you want to modify behavior waiting five minutes uncouples the cause and effect in the brain of the child, if each time the child does something bad something adverse happens (like they get their toys taken away for the day, when they hurt someone with the toy) it’s a more powerful learning message, than if that toy was taken away five minutes later, when they are already thinking and possibly doing something else.
Sometimes I get too angry to talk to my child about our values when she does something bad, and I confine her somewhere safe while I calm down, but I don’t expect her to learn from that… I’m just keeping her safe from being verbally abused by me, while I am furious. I talk to her when I am calmed down, and I tell her what our family values are. I’m trying to use ICC, inform, consequence, choice from the Four Tendencies book, so I say “when you kick the dog you are not mālama-ing/caring for our dog” (inform), “if you kick the dog you can not be in the living room where the dog lives anymore, you will go to your space” (consequence), then I let her choose to either apologize to the dog, or go to/be taken to her room (choice). I don’t punish her with hitting, with screaming, with taking away toys (except if she used them as weapons), I don’t confine her in her room as punishment (though I do for safety, while I calm down) and over the past month I’ve noticed a big improvement in her behavior.
There are some really wonderful ideas in Dr. Shefali’s books, so much so that I tried to live by them for about three years. However, I think it’s so important for parents to know that not all ideas work for all parents or children, even if you try them consistently and do a good job, since kids are different, parenting can never be a one size fit’s all eye glasses prescription. My favorite Ted Talk about parenting, Jennifer Nacif’s “the Secret to Motivating Your Child,” changed the way I saw all parenting advice forever, and empowered me to start viewing my child as a person first, and child second and if all people are created equal, that means my child isn’t really somehow “holier than me” needing me to constantly be the one to go the extra mile, while she won’t meet me half way.